from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

War Crimes in Syria: the Lives We Did Not Save

August 9, 2016

Blog Post

A few items in today’s news give an accurate portrait of the disaster to which Obama policy in Syria has led.

First there is the bombing of hospitals by the Assad regime: "A hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and specializing in pediatrics in a rebel-held northern Syria province has been destroyed in a series of airstrikes over the weekend that killed 13 people, including four staff and five children, the international medical charity said Monday.... two of four airstrikes directly hit the hospital in Millis, in the northern province of Idlib and put it out of service. Six other hospital staff members were wounded in the broad daylight airstrikes Saturday. The bombing of the hospital that serves as a reference centre specializing in pediatrics also destroyed the operating theatre, intensive care unit, pediatric department, ambulances and a generator, the charity said."

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This is a deliberate policy and a pattern, testimony to the UN confirmed: "Experts painted a graphic portrait of barrel bombings, attacks on medical facilities, chemical weapons use and the ongoing suffering inside the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, shaming the international community for its inaction at an informal Security Council meeting Monday organized by the United States....15 health care facilities had been attacked in July alone."

Then there is the use of incendiary bombs by Russia to attack civilian targets: "In June 2016 Syrian opposition groups filmed and reported a number of incendiary bomb attacks on towns and cities across Syria. Activist frequently blamed Russian jets for the attacks, and on June 20 2016 Russian Today was caught editing footage of Russian jets in Syria to remove footage showing RBK-500 ZAB 2.5SM incendiary bombs."

What is the reaction of the United States?

 

"We cannot allow this to happen," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said. Citing U.N. figures, Power said Syrian government forces were to blame for nearly 80 percent of the besieged areas throughout Syria. Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the outbreak of the conflict five years ago, has been divided between government forces and rebels since the summer of 2012. "We once again urge Russia to stop facilitating these sieges and to use its influence to press the regime to end its sieges across Syria once and for all," she said.

 

The reaction of the United States is to "urge Russia" to stop. There is "no military solution," the President keeps saying. So despite Power’s statement, we absolutely can allow this to happen, and we are actually allowing it to happen.

In fact, the use of barrel bombs and chlorine gas by the Syrian "air force," and the repeated deliberate targeting of hospitals, are war crimes. Urging Russia to stop, and urging Russia to stop its ally Assad, is not a policy; it is the pathetic substitute for a policy. The Obama administration has decided to do nothing, or the moral equivalent thereof. I suppose we will read in Mr. Obama’s memoirs about how difficult and complex and trying the Syria problem was, and why he did the absolute maximum. Nothing more could sensibly have been done, he will write. But when U.S. policy is reduced to begging Russia and the Assad regime to stop slaughtering civilians, that is going to be a hard argument to make. When Mr. Obama sits down to write next year he might begin with remarks made at the Holocaust Museum in 2012:

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"never again" is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth -- too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

 

That was a speech by Barack Obama.

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